Expanding Biodesign's research infrastructure will be a critical factor in its future success

According to the Flinn Foundation's Bioscience Roadmap report, in the first decade, Arizona has built major research facilities at its universities like the Biodesign Institute, formed new private research institutes, attracted top talent, created high-tech business incubators, and greatly expanded statewide STEM (science, technology, education, math) education programs.  The number of Arizona bioscience industry jobs grew by 45 percent, nearly four times greater than the nation.

“The updated Bioscience Roadmap builds on the successes of its first decade and adds contemporary strategies to take Arizona’s bioscience base to the next level,” said Jack Jewett, President & CEO of the Flinn Foundation, which commissioned the update and the original Bioscience Roadmap in 2002.  “Arizona is now known as a top emerging bioscience state, but we have far to go to reach our full potential.”

Based on the latest industry data (2012), Arizona currently has 106,846 bioscience jobs spread across 1,382 establishments and an annual average wage of $62,775—39 percent higher than the private-sector average.  These numbers do not include academic research jobs at the state universities or private research institutes. But the good news, is that bioscience investment has helped diversify Arizona's economy, and attracted significant talent that are having a high impact to better the lives of its citizens. 

Future directions

What is the future evolution of the Biodesign Institute?

Overall, Arizona's bioscience industry is aiming to increase research revenue for institutions statewide by 69 percent over the next decade to $782 million and attract additional anchors for the sector.

At ASU, a rapid expansion of research infrastructure under President Michael Crow's vision of A New American Unversity has resulted in a doubling of its research funding in the past decade, to more than $350 million in annual expenditures. Now, the goal is to double it again.

As part of ASU’s goal of attaining $700M in annual expenditures on research by 2020, Biodesign has been assigned a target of $100M in annual research expenditures. We are currently a little more than half that level. But our first two buildings, Biodesign A and B, reached capacity years ago and have been operating at near capacity ever since.

Biodesign’s awards and research expenditures are amongst the highest per square foot on the ASU campus, perhaps justifying an argument that we are performing to expectations and producing satisfactory, or even exemplary, return-on-investment. And its innovations are beginning to reach the marketplace, with spinouts like HealthTell focused on the early detection of diseases like cancer. 

The goal is to continue this trajectory. A recent article in AZ Big Media by Eric Jay Toll discussed the return-on-investment potential for continued university research investment:

 “It’s quite a return on investment. Put a dollar in the pot. Five years later, take home double the money and improve the quality of life for Arizonans in the process. The investment strategy worked in 2003, so why not try it again, especially after those who were part of the last deal have taken home $5 for every $1 invested?

 That’s exactly what some Arizona officials are trying to do. The Jobs 2020 Proposal, or Senate Bill 1378, hopes to pump $1 billion into research. It is modeled after the successful 2003 plan that became a catalyst which helped Arizona earn a reputation as one of the nation’s fastest-growing bioscience regions.

In 2003, the Arizona State Legislature authorized $34.6 million per year for 23 years to fund new research facilities at all three universities. A total of $500 million was invested into research and development infrastructure at Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and University of Arizona. In five years, the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) reports that $2.5 billion in direct economic benefit was pumped into the state’s economy. During that time, high-paying bioscience jobs grew substantially faster in Arizona than the rest of the nation.

 Now, ABOR wants to try to duplicate its success on a larger scale — double the scale. ABOR wants the Legislature to approve $1 billion in bond money to pay for new facilities in hopes of doubling the research grant funding pulled in by the three universities and attracting top researchers who are working to discover cures for diseases. It was high on the Regents’ wish list for the 2014 legislative session.

“Research at Arizona’s universities pumps $1 billion per year into our state’s economy,” said ABOR President Eileen Klein. “We believe that this is one of our greatest opportunities to broaden our economy, which is why the Arizona Board of Regents has set goal to grow the research output to $2 billion annually to make it one of Arizona’s largest economic segments.”

To continue fulfilling the key components of our mission, and to set the Institute on a trajectory to achieve our expenditures target, we plan to start five new centers over the next several years.  The number of new centers we are able to launch, and the pace at which we are able to launch them, depends explicitly on the availability of suitable space.  In a nutshell: no space, no new centers; and no new centers, no increase in research expenditures, no spinouts, no new bioscience jobs or benefits to Arizonans.

The expansion of research infrastructure is critical to Biodesign meeting its future goals, including:

  • Doubling research expenditures to $100 million annually by 2020
  • Expanding research infrastructure with addition of 150,000 sq. ft. of new space (building C) 
  • Recruiting new talent, faculty and forming 5 new research centers in emerging fields with high innovation potential and societal impact
  • Expanding the number of clinical and industrial partnerships
  • Expanding Biodesign’s research and innovation concept statewide and internationally through collaborations with Dublin City University, Mexico and China

And, in the end, this expansion will help contribute to the Bioscience Roadmap’s overarching vision for Arizona—a young but rapidly growing state in the biosciences—to become a global competitor and national leader in select areas of the biosciences by 2025. 

In summary, ASU’s research enterprise, students and the community have greatly benefited from state support. The funds have been instrumental in not only funding research activities but also serving as motivation for ASU to think strategically about the direction of its research enterprise and where ASU is best suited to create, influence and respond to opportunities that impact the lives of individuals locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.